The following article was written in 1999 and was read on air by NHK English Radio. It’s been slightly modified to “protect the innocent” and we hope you find it enjoyable.
Friends of mine received Japanese Driver’s License with an eye test and a smile when I first arrived in Japan. Since that time, a growing Foreign Resident Population and more importantly, a visible increase in traffic accidents involving Foreign Residents has caused rules to change. Little did I know that when both legal and practical reasons forced me to abandon my International License and apply for my Japanese License, that it would turn into a nightmare lasting three days.
The preparation for the application and subsequent test was simple. We sent copies of my present license to the Japan Automobile Association for Official Translation. On advice from a friend we also obtained an official record displaying my driving history from the Province Of British Columbia, Canada. The receptionist at the Tokyo Motor Vehicle Testing Center accepted my paperwork, reviewed it and troubles started. “You have to prove that you lived in Canada for six months after receiving your license. Do you have a passport from 1976?” Actually, my first ever Passport went through a wash back in Canada and wasn’t worth keeping. I decided to keep quiet while the receptionist and her manager discussed the issue. After about fifteen minutes they decide to sign off on the paper work and send me on to stage two. (I was very lucky. Often people spend months gathering red tape from their Government’s Motor Vehicle Office only to be refused on another hidden technicality.)
The next step was an eye test. It took less than fifteen seconds. Candidates looked through a window and answered one question. “Which way is the arrow pointing?” Left. “Correct. Now, what color’s this pencil?” Red. “Correct.” The Police Women stamped my Official Test Record and it was on to stage three.
We walked down the corridor and entered the Written Test Hall. The security was impressive. Two Policemen came in with a locked box and pulled out a test each for the three applicants. The tests were a true and false format and consisted of ten questions. The applicant next to me wrote hers in Japanese, the fellow to the right, Chinese, and I received the English Language version. It included questions phrased in Japanese English that left you guessing. "Don't you drive ahead of an Emergency Vehicle through an intersection when you're in a hurry"? Yes or No.
We all made the minimum requirement of seven correct answers and passed the test. The Policemen congratulated us and immediately assigned us a date and time for our Practical Driving Test. “Tomorrow Morning.” We were all to report on Wednesday at 8 a.m... Prior to our dismissal we were given a test map and general rules pertaining to the Practical Driving Test. The list included rules such as “follow all instructions of the Testing Officer, accidents result in failure followed by immediate termination of test, and excessive driving errors will result in immediate failure again followed by termination of test.” There was other information with further rules and helpful hints in the package that should have been read more carefully.
The next morning I rose early feeling excited and nervous. The traffic wasn’t bad, parking spots were plenty and I the Eager Beaver arrived first in line to receive his test number. In fact, I received “test number one” which meant the earliest start, passing and returning home in time for lunch. (What a misconception.) I found out several important facts about the testing procedure my first time through it. (It was a classic dress rehearsal.)
Everyone except for number one, gets a back seat view of the course prior to test. Number 2 rides with number 1, Number 3 rides with Number 2 and so on. Everyone else came early and walked the course which never changes for Foreign Drivers. Who knew? I was the only one who didn’t know the course by heart.
It was an interesting Road Test that focused on some Japanese rules different than North American Driving Rules. For example, turn from inside right lane to far left lane. Not the closest inside lane as in North America. Also the course has two obstacles that look worse than reality. Have you seen the San Francisco road they call the world's most crooked? Yes, much worse than that.
Driving Candidates have the option of testing in a standard or automatic transmission style vehicle. The automatic transmission vehicle was my selection and the ease of driving with both hands on the wheel made little difference. Everyone fails the first time. This seems to be the most important rule not found in the guide sheets handed out by the Test Center. Three out of 15 pass Wednesdays’ Test. I failed because the Testing Officer’s Hat flew off when a tire ran over the curb and the car bounced. (Remember the crooked road. It got me.)
I hung my head and listened to the Policeman's lecture to the twelve “losers.” It was well presented and covered every weak area of each candidate. It lasted half an hour and the attentive candidates benefited from the wisdom. After the lecture, we were all handed the next test appointment. That’s right, the next day, Thursday at 8 a.m.
We actually arrived at the course the next morning about 7 a.m. Camaraderie began amongst the disappointed testers and a tenacious foreign community began during the examination process. We walked the course together, reviewed course maps, discussed common mistakes, and watched the early birds (keeners in the lineup) take their test.
Riding in the back seat was educational if not intimidating and frightening. The young man taking his test was intensely nervous and drove dangerously. His test finalized with a minor accident. He hit a plastic hanging pole meant as an obstacle for trucks. It was a relief to make it back to home base in one piece and start my test.
The results were much better my second test. The crooked road seemed far less difficult. The rules were easier to follow once understood and the course didn’t present any surprises. The Testing Officer congratulated me on a clean test. In fact, the individuals who became friends during the three day ordeal faired well. Only Kaoru, Mohamed and I received a Japanese Driving License. Kaoru is Japanese but we gave her honorary Foreigner status because of her time in Seattle and positive attitude. It’s less expensive and more convenient to study driving abroad, especially when spending extended time in the United States. It was Mohamed's and my second try, Kaoru’s third.
Mohamed is from Afghanistan.
He said "driving through Afghanistan villages is dangerous because of children and goats. Old mines left on mountain roads from Civil Wars can also be a hazard."
It was a taxing and time consuming experience.
However, we are better drivers and this is especially true for Japanese Roads.
The system works. It makes Japan a safer place to drive. Just as importantly, the test allowed us to make new friends and we have another terrible license picture to show for the experience.
Post Script: Kaoru actually took a job with our firm and was an integrate part of my Consulting Team for five years before leaving to start a family. Mohamed and I did not keep. Things did not get better for Afghanistan since 1999 and we all hope he remains safe. Much of my time is spent on the road in Japan and lessons learned at the Examination Park remain sincerely appreciated.
My “much better half” once again researched through the Tabelog Web Site & found a terrific option for Italian Dining in Tokyo. The Trattoria Della Lanterna Magica comes well recommended by Japanese Bloggers (on Tabelog) who encourage carefully planned reservations and readiness for a great time. We called on Monday for a Friday Reservation Slot. The only available table allowed a 9 PM dinner appointment. This improved to a 7:30 in the evening when Kurashima San (the Lanterna magica Manager) called my wife’s cell phone inviting us to come earlier. We were beneficiaries of cancellations. The personal touch continued from our arrival where we were enthusiastically greeted & escorted to our table until exiting the home like structure to a taxi ordered by the restaurant.
The tables are well bused, waiters are knowledgeable of wines (we went off the menu) & recommended daily specials were a universal hit. We asked our waiter to assemble Assorted Antipasto from a fresh list promoted on a color chalk board & presented at our table. It was the best part of the evening as the vegetables, shell fish and spiced fresh fish combinations worked well with a Sicilian Barocco Avide. (This lovely red wine was hard earned after a serious week treading water in the Ebb & Flow of Tokyo Business.) The thick pasta made fresh at the tavern, Borchini Risotto and Spicy Grilled Chicken Diavola were memorably delicious. My Lady adds the caveat that most dishes sampled edged to the salty side of the scale. She feels it’s a conscious strategy to encourage wine and beer sales. (That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.)
The menu can be better enjoyed shared as waiters offer everyone the option of splitting orders. Dividing & parceling out food is natural to Japanese Diners and the Trattoria efforts were welcomed by most of our neighbors. You will be aware of other diners at the Tavern. The nicely decorated architecture creates a natural sound chamber that resonates thru your bones. As the evening progressed with wine induced levity, most people found themselves raising voices to unusual levels when simply talking to friends & colleagues at their table. “Did I say it was loud?” It’s a trendy place well hidden in Kamiosaki a short cab ride from Meguro Station. The Trattoria Della Lanterna Magica customers were ready for a good time and dressed up for the occasion. It’s frequented by groups of friends, business colleagues and families. (We didn’t see any children joining the late night restaurant crowd.)
Executive Summary: At the Trattoria Della Lanterna Magica you enjoy top class service comparable to the best restaurants anywhere, delicious selections prepared slightly on the salty side, and a more than adequate wine cellar. Be prepared for enough NOISE to cloak any delicate conversation. The Homey and Classy Tavern is located in the well healed urban community of Kamiosaki near Meguro Station. Prices reflect the high rent district. We will select and purchase wine from the published menu rather than leave it to the Sommelier next time as we don’t have an unlimited budget. “Que sera sera.”
Trattoria Della Lanterna Magica http://www.lanternamagica.jp/
We’ll give credit where it is due. Thank you once again to Tabelog for an excellent assessment and recommendation. (Tabelog is a Japanese Site where registered members write serious restaurant critiques. My foxy bride likes their track record.) We found the Ban Rai Tei located near the Market Street (Shijo Dori) at the outer circles of Yokohama China Town through Tabelog and it was a hit.
The Restaurant has a long history & originated as a noodle house specializing in takeout meals. They continue to offer this service but we enjoyed their quick and efficient service while sitting down in their six table restaurant. It reminds me of a large kitchen with simple décor (a clock, photos of celebrity customers including Baseball Legend Shigeo Nagashima and some simple statues.) The restaurant and washroom are noticeably clean and servers are neat and tidy. It’s a great place to simply eat great food and move on to your next weekend adventure.
The Tabelog Blog and Restaurant Boast the “Best” Shanghai Style Chow Mein and Xialongbao (Juicy or Soup Dumplings). Both were delicious but expect tasty meat without the flavorful juice and soup you experience with the Peking Style Dumplings. Vegetable lovers won’t go wrong with the stir fried assortments, and the sweet and sour pork (Subuta) made my day. Our meal was completed with a large pot of Excellent Jasmine Tea. An Executive Summary for the Ban Rai Tei would read “fine food at a convenient location, away from the tourist rush, and at affordable prices.”
Tabelog http://r.tabelog.com/ (Japanese only)
After more than two decades in Japan, this humble (red faced) Expatriate Canadian stumbles through matters of etiquette and culture. Until my recent marriage to my Japanese Wife, I wandered obliviously from one faux pas to another, while my Japanese Colleagues, Neighbors and Friends turned the other cheek to generously excuse my transgressions. This simple but important “perk” ceased to exist, as not only does my lovely better half hold up a mirror of truth, but my once forgiving “tomodachi” now feel that “I should know better.”
My Japanese Linguistic Skills are elementary but functional. They’ve been easily eclipsed and sometimes ridiculed by my soul mate who interprets English to Japanese simultaneously. As part of the community we take our turn cleaning up after the Garbage is removed by the City. This is often a chance to meet members of the Community who enjoy the opportunity to meet a diligent foreigner ready to meet civil duties with a broom and dust pan. One elderly woman who stopped to observe my efforts asked “what are you doing”? My reply was that I was the “gomi no tantosha” and she seemed suitably impressed. My wife informs me that my role did not warrant this lofty title suitable to authorities at the City Hall, but offered “gomi toban” (clean up turn person) as a better alternative.
To decorate the walls of our new home, I had several recent photos of our family framed by friends at one of the local US Military Bases. The lovely thick black frames give the photos a classy look. My father in law received my daughters’ photo taken at her 7-5-3 (Shichi-Go-San) Shinto Blessing Ceremony. He was horrified and questioned me as to “how my daughter would allow you to do such a thing.” Apparently the black frame is only suitable to pictures of deceased loved ones, and are established from time of one’s funeral. We have a house full of family photos framed in dark wood. This must creep out friends when they come over for wine and cheese. No good deed goes unpunished.
It gets worse. We live near Kuji Station which is only a few 100 meters from one of the largest cemeteries (Ohaka) found in Greater Tokyo. Thus flower shops stock various plants suitable to the setting of a family crypt. Some have the loveliest colors and fragrance. Two weeks ago, my wife returned from grocery shopping and literally gasped when she saw the fine bouquet placed on our mantle. To make matters worse, they were positioned near a photo of me running in the Las Vegas Marathon. She removed them immediately and admonished me for the bad omen. When will I ever learn?
I first met Hajime (Jim) Takada 20 Years ago at a business meeting in San Francisco. He was a young executive at a fast growing Orthopedic Medical Device Company called Nippon Sigmax. His enthusiasm and linguistic skills impressed my clients who were looking for a Japanese Distributor for their popular Splinting and Casting Material. A Distribution Agreement was soon initiated and the project has continued profitably for both companies.
Outside of his talent for business and enviable personal skills, Jim has had the capacity to leverage extracurricular activities to create exciting opportunities. His Tennis Skills took him from a Tennis Academy in Kyoto where he grew up with his wife, a Former Pro Tennis player and Olympian, to University in California on Tennis Scholarship, and his expertise was not lost on Orthopedic Surgeons who enjoyed playing with him. Tennis evolved to golf, and business mixed with pleasure has been enjoyed by Mr. Takada from St. Andrew's to Pebble Beach.
Athletic aptitude aside, what makes Jim truly exceptional is his knowledge of wines and terrific locations to dine throughout Japan. Surgeons, Business Colleagues and good friends contact Jim when selecting wine or a venue is important. Jim's admitted feeling pressured as expectations for his recommendations have reached extreme levels. We've added to the load by requesting a Top Five List of Tokyo Restaurants and were gratified to be able to share with those who kindly view our Blog.
Jim is one of my best friends and his family attended our Wedding Reception just a few months ago. We’ve sampled many a vintage or brew since our first meeting in the City by the Bay. He’s my resource for information about Restaurants in Tokyo and almost everywhere else he leaves his foot prints. He is a first rate gentleman anyone would be fortunate to meet. Here are Jim Takada’s recommendations with a surprise found in Yamanashi Prefecture West of Tokyo:
1. Kikuura (Japanese, authentic, Shinjuku) http://www.kikuura.com/1f/index.html
2. La Scogliera (Italian, seafood, Aoyama) http://www.la-scogliera.com/
3. Specchio (Italian, Toscana, Yotsuya) http://www.specchio-yotsuya.co.jp/
4. Kurosawa (Japanese, soba, Nagata-cho) http://www.9638.net/nagata/index.html
5. La Cueillette (French, bistro at vineyard, Yamanashi) http://www17.plala.or.jp/Cueillette/
My wife and I look forward to trying out these exciting options. We’ll let you know how it goes as we knock them off one at a time. My sincere thanks goes out to Jim Takada who we hope will give us a Top 5 Wine Suggestion List in the future.
Nippon Sigmax Co., Ltd. http://www.sigmax.co.jp/english/
Jim is the good-looking gentleman on the left:
With the luxury of an hour and half to review Meeting Preparation Material and a need for a coffee, I ventured to the OAZO Building across from the North Gate of Tokyo Station. There’s a terrific book store (Maruzen) throughout the first and the fourth floors of the OAZO Building, but the venue also offers several restaurant options.
Amalfi MODERNA had plenty of empty tables and was open throughout the afternoon. The menu also offered a Gelato/Coffee set that was enticing. The Service in the small Café was courteous and fast. I was seated by an Italian Gentleman open to conversation and served by an equally friendly Japanese Waiter. The desert and espresso were very well presented and truly hit the spot. Total for the set with tax was 1000 Yen. The Amalfi Group advertises five other restaurant locations that will be worth a try.
Marunouchi Oazo (Japanese only) http://www.marunouchi.com/oazo/index2.html
Maruzen Bookstore@Marunouchi http://www.maruzen.co.jp/corp/shop/marunouchi.html
Amalfi MODERNA (Japanese only)
Interviews with Multi-National Expatriate Executives in Japan eventually come around to Recruitment and the difficulty of hiring & retaining Excellent Japanese Employees. Small foreign businesses in Japan fair no better with less attractive resources. We’ve had various degrees of success bringing in Employees thru referrals, newspaper ads and direct solicitation when situations and opportunity present themselves.
Our batting average improved when we starting working with a Web Site Based Recruitment Firm called Career Cross. The Site Targets Bilingual Japanese Job Seekers and offers prospective employers the option to Post Advertisements and send direct interview offers to candidates listed in the extensive Career Cross Data Base.
Our recent advertisement for a Project Coordinator Position resulted in a record number of quality applications. Our experience confirms that difficult economic times are favoring employers in Japan. For the first time we had the luxury of interviewing candidates interested and motivated by our application rather than trying to sell a position by emailing offers for interviews to someone in the Career Cross Data Base. We ultimately faced the enviable problem of having to make the difficult selection from a talented and motivated group of people qualified for our employment short list.
Finding Career Cross was a major step in creating a model for successful searches for employees. Some other effective and time saving practices learned over the years when hiring in Japan include: telephone interviews to confirm English Ability, job specific translation tests that can be offered after a telephone interview and administered thru email, and finally face to face interviews conducted by both Japanese & English Speakers. As Professional Japanese is an acquired skill; an experienced interviewer is essential to determine a candidate’s ability to articulate in a formal business setting. At the end of the day, our Consulting Team admits that when selecting people, it’s often “better to be lucky than good.”
Our positive experience with the Career Cross Recruitment Web Site can be largely attributed to Mr. Justin Kay, the Senior Sales Representative who takes care of our account. His follow up and over the top assistance has made all the difference.
Mr. Kay agreed to survey his colleagues and some clients to assemble a Top 5 List of Considerations for Foreign Companies hiring Japanese Nationals. We hope you enjoy his perspective:
1. Focus on job content not language skills - The best Japanese professionals don't speak English and don't want to.
2. Inquire about how they were managed and how they were evaluated - Good workers had good managers. Bad workers usually had bad managers.
3. Give projects/assignments - See how they work, some Japanese are horrible at interviewing but great at working.
4. Have a detailed job description - Most companies don't. Make applying easy for candidates, as Japanese read carefully, have lots of input about the job.
5. If you are interviewing, and cannot speak completely fluent Japanese, have an interpreter, from an OUTSIDE company present - The interpreter's job is to interpret, not make judgments. Your "right hand man/woman" should be taking notes on answers not trying to bang out translation. Worst yet, they may not translate everything said!